My Secret Past As A Shopping Addict
You would probably never guess this about me if we met today, but I used to be addicted to shopping.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve stayed up late for midnight makeup releases just to snag coveted products. I purchased limited edition items based completely off of promotional shots and descriptions with leaked swatches. I felt a rush as I refreshed the page and the new collection became available. I frantically added the items on my list to the cart and my hands shook slightly as I clicked through to check out. When I got the order confirmation email, I’d breathe a sigh of relief. My heart pounded. Then, I’d go back and continue to refresh the page as the most popular items sold out. I took pleasure in watching the ones I’d chosen become unavailable to others. These were powerful emotions, and they covered up even more powerful ones – sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, failure, loneliness.
The problem with placating your emotions by consumption is that it’s fleeting. The planning, purchasing, waiting, unboxing, and initial use only distract you for so long. A few days, sometimes. When that phase is over every unresolved emotion is still buried in your heart, joined by the guilt of spending money that you don’t have on products you probably won’t use.
Because another side effect of the temporal buzz is the excess and waste. A blush, for example, takes so little product per use that one will sometimes last through years of daily wear. Did I mention that cosmetics are consumables that expire? If you don’t use them up completely in a few years they can lose pigmentation, change texture, or worse – start to grow harmful bacteria. There was no way I could use up products at the same rate I was purchasing them.
That’s how you end up with drawers of barely used makeup, which has another side effect: choice paralysis. I had so many things and was so overwhelmed that I stopped wearing it. Cue further guilt, and the cycle continued.
I wasn’t only purchasing makeup either. Clothing, accessories, candles. I’d go off on a tangent and start collecting. When one area began to overwhelm me, I switched to something else.
It took me a while to face this reality, despite having all of the hallmarks of a shopping addiction:
- spending more than I could afford
- shopping as a way to regulate emotions
- feeling euphoric or anxious while shopping
- experiencing guilt after making purchases
- hiding products or receipts
- lying about the price of items
Advertising had infiltrated my already overburdened mind, convincing me that I was inadequate in every way. It offered me a sense of control when everything else felt out of my hands. Shopping was a way to both distract me from life and to distract others from me. Nobody asked me if something was wrong when I had on a full face of makeup.
My life didn’t improve with the influx of things, like the ads suggested it would. If anything I felt worse the more I bought. My things owned me. Ads owned me. YouTubers owned me.
It’s uncomfortable to revisit this part of my past, because I’m ashamed that I let my mental health deteriorate to the point that shopping could hijack my life so completely. I spent thousands of dollars over the few years it escalated. A drop in the bucket compared to rent or tuition, but still money that would have been better spent elsewhere.
Eventually, after much trial and error and many ‘no buy’ months, I was able to curb my impulses. I had to stop browsing makeup reviews and reading about anticipated new products. I had to stop watching YouTube videos. I had to see a therapist about unresolved issues in my life. I had to develop better coping skills. Now I have about 10 makeup items total, I shop for them maybe once a year, and I rarely wear it anyway because I’m working on loving myself in the body and face that I have.
But I still need to be careful. I don’t think I’ll ever be at the point where I can consider myself truly recovered. If you knew me both now and then you would swear we were completely different people, but there’s still something inside of me that feeds on insecurity.
When I do buy something I need or want, it reignites those feelings of anticipation and desire for task completion. Sometimes it sets off a chain reaction of buying other things. I’m more mindful now, and can usually check myself when I’ve been spending too much, but it’s a constant reminder that I once lost control. I try not to let the shame spiral set in, because I know that will only make it worse.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have asked for help earlier, had I viewed excessive shopping to be as problematic as other addictions. ‘Shopaholic’ has a frivolous, guilty pleasure feel to it. We engage in ‘retail therapy’ – as if it could ever possibly stand in for real therapy. Whenever I saw someone overspend or compulsively shop, it was framed as a joke or a feminine character flaw. I didn’t take my mental health seriously and I didn’t take my problematic relationship with shopping seriously, so I struggled on my own.
If you’re struggling right now, here is a list of resources to learn more. You’re not alone. I hope you find your way out.